Rated R for brutal, but-mostly-offscreen, violence. Like, it feels like the movie went harder than it actually did. There's some real f-bombs in there. There's also ritualistic suicide and mass death, despite having a very small cast of characters stuck in an intimate setting. There's a hate crime that is shown on-screen that colors the film as a whole. There's also a kid in danger, which is also the trait of Disney movies. R.
DIRECTOR: M. Night Shymalan
This might be the longest time that it has been between movies. Am I done with movies? I will admit that there's something remarkably freeing in not having to write. But I was seeing plays for a week straight, so I didn't really have a chance to watch any movies. I'll tell you some truths that I'm coming to grips with right now. 1) I don't want to write. It was liberating not writing, so be aware that there is some real willpower happening right now. Hal Jordan levels of willpower. Secondly, I might have to enforce newly minted summer rules. I said for a while that this was going to be a blog of quality over quantity, but that went away when I saw how pretty long blog entries were. I have about half-an-hour to write and I'm going to see what I get done in that little amount of time.
I keep seeing these Shyamalan movies. Part of me is really rooting for him. He seems like he could have been one of the great directors of all time. The cinematography in his films isn't phoned in. He seems like a real film nerd. But he's been chasing his own past for so long that it is a little hard to take him seriously. The other half of me --for some awful reason --really wants to see this man fail again. I don't know why. Maybe because I know that his movies aren't drawing the audiences that they used to, so my commentary seems to be a voice alone in the darkness. No one is really seeing these movies. I mean, honestly, if Peacock didn't continue to remind me that I had this at my disposal for free (and I didn't feel like watching an Indonesian movie as my first movie back in the pack), I probably would never have seen it. (Somehow, they keep falling onto my list, so I can't really say that with any degree of authority.)
The thing that I kind of applaud with Knock at the Cabin is that it wasn't an original concept by Shyamalan himself. My major complaint with the films since The Village is that Shymalan has been trying to find a way to write a twisty puzzle that don't live up to the twist of The Sixth Sense. Seeing that he's been branching out into adapting novels is actually kind of encouraging for him. Now, I don't know much about this book that he adapted. My buddy Bob read it and really liked it. I actually am considering adding it to the pile. But Bob also mentioned that it was one of those books that has been infamously impossible to adapt. I don't know what it is about some books that just swear that you shouldn't adapt them, but I also think that directors shouldn't treat them as white whales because, at the end of the day, Knock at the Cabin really stays in its lane so hard that it just kind of proves to be forgettable.
When you hear the premise for the film, you know that the movie can only go in so many places. I tend to run while I'm watching these movies and my mind does some weird things with the endorphins that accompanies these films. I also try to actively watch these movies knowing that I am going to have to write about these movies later on. But the only thing that I could think of while running is that the movie tried to give emotional stakes to the Trolley Experiment. It's weird. Because of The Good Place, I didn't have to explain the Trolley Problem to people. But now I find myself constantly explaining the Trolley Problem. Don't worry. I have a YouTube clip of The Good Place ready to go. But Knock at the Cabin is fundamentally the same problem: Ignoring logic or reason, would you sacrifice someone you love for the good of society? Now, most of the movie is making peace with the fact that this scenario seems truly outlandish. After all, if given a proper trolley problem, you'd be questioning why outside factors aren't affecting those people in the way or why there are so many circumstances that should be in our control.
As a fun, philosophical problem, there's something really cool going on there. After all, the reason why we have the trolley problem is to start a philosophical debate. If Bill is reading this, I'm sure you probably loathe the trolley problem at this point. (Bill is a philosophy professor who posts some truly gnarly memes.) But is the trolley problem a movie? I mean, that's what's going on here. There is a binary choice. Good storytelling is about binary choices. There are characters who need things that are diametrically opposed to one another and they will do anything to get them. For the sake of Greg, Andrew, and Wen, they need to escape the trolley problem before they have to make a choice. For Leonard and company, they need to have one of these people sacrifice another to save humanity. It's odd, because the moral choice for them has already been made. These four come across as zealots, which I suppose the movie needs. But to get their needs, Andrew and Greg try to undo their commitment to a cause.
Where I see the most Shyamalan is casting doubt. I don't know what the book offered. I kind of wish that I did. But the audience's investment in the story is the question of the authenticity of the zealots' claims. There are all these moments that make us question the sanity of these people. After all, there's something romantic about Leonard's belief in what is happening. I love Dave Bautista and I want to talk about his influence on his movies in a minute. But I also need to separate Dave Bautista from his character. He comes in as this gentle giant. He is truly the burdened of the entire scenario. At his core, he's already sacrificed himself for God and humanity. God has asked the unthinkable of him, something that is so abhorrent that he vomits when he discharges his duties. He calls Greg and Andrew his friends at one point (and it's haunting). He seems insane for a lot of the movie because how committed he is to his cause. But the real reveal is the Redmond reveal. It just seems so much more plausible than Leonard's story, especially in contrast to one of the weaker elements of the film. The reveal I'm talking about is how Redmond was an alias. He was directly tied to Andrew, holding a violent history with the protagonist.
And yet, there's the fun idea that maybe Greg and Andrew weren't the good guys of the piece. There's something really bananas thinking of the metatext of the whole piece. The movie wouldn't really work if the four are mentally ill. It's a drastically different movie. The only way that they can be insane is if Greg or Andrew bought the story and then found out it was malarky. I think you know that the four are telling the truth and for all of their bluster about being as sympathetic as possible, you know that they're the bad guys. Yet, they are the ones who made sacrifices without ever thinking twice. The fact that Redmond is the first one to die is almost bananas to think about because he's the other big name of this film. (The film, by the way, is littered with a lot of A-minus names. I don't mean to be rude, but it's got names that are recognizable without necessarily being marketable on their own.) But we're so rooted in the tropes that we can't help but watch this as movie as a home invasion movie. It's the only thing that really makes this movie worth watching, the subverting of a trope. Yes, we should root for Greg and Andrew. After all, it's got the final message of the original Star Trek movies were working towards: The needs of the one may outweight the needs of the many. It's transcendentalist...until it isn't.
I want to unpack how morality isn't one thing or the other. It would be really easy for the film to be embraced as either pro-or-anti-COVID. I want to distance myself from that argument because that is a flawed allegory. Greg and Andrew aren't doing something that is incovenient, like wearing a mask or getting vaccinated. They are asked to kill a member of their family. If Greg and Andrew were asked to do something reasonable, albeit at gunpoint, there would be this message of intense freedom and nationalism that we've been looking at for the past nearly eight years. But it's not. It's actually really weird that Greg and Andrew kowtow to the apocalypse. I mean, as much as I compare this movie to the Trolley Problem, it shares a lot of DNA with a movie that has a similar title: Cabin in the Woods. But while The Cabin in the Woods embraces transcendentalism; we cannot oppress the individual at the cost of humanity's collective oversoul. But Knock at the Cabin decides to go the other way with it and for one reason: we needed to know if the zealots were right.
I don't necessarily buy Greg's change. There's a mystery reflection in the glass and that is very vague. But I also love that their original mission statement screamed, "We'd sacrifice the world rather than hurt one another." There is a shift and it's a bit disappointed. But it's mainly because we needed answers. Ultimately, the movie forgot the morality of the Trolley Problem and understood that it wanted to have a concrete, science-fiction problem that needed addressing. That leads to the notion that we have a cruel god, who doesn't step in like Abraham and Isaac, but instead will allow the faithful to die awful and horrible deaths after sacrificing their own moral codes for him. It's a bummer, but also makes the movie have a point of view.
Before I close up, I want to talk about Dave Bautista. Man, he acts his face off in this movie. I get the vibe that he wants to do this all the time, but in better movies. Knock at the Cabin is fine. But I see him try to distance himself from traditional genre storytelling because there's nothing to do with character in stuff like that. Leonard might be the role he's been looking for in a while.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.